Building Community and Positive Relationships: How Some D.C. Public Charter Schools are Changing their Climate

By: Brian Robinson, Policy Fellow

Last week the D.C. Public Charter School Board (PCSB) hosted about two-dozen school leaders from across the city to talk about ways they have built a positive school climate. The National School Climate Center defines school climate as “the quality and character of school life.” When schools have a positive school climate, students are more likely to want to attend school, feel safe at school, develop positive relationships with peers and adults, and be engaged with teaching and learning.

Center City PCS – Brightwood Campus was applauded by PCSB for having one of the highest attendance and lowest chronic absenteeism rates in the charter sector. This was true across all subgroups (i.e., special education, at-risk, black, Hispanic students). Some strategies they credit for their success include:

  • Engaging all stakeholders in monitoring attendance. The school’s counselor and operations manager meet twice a week to review attendance data. Teachers flag absences, particularly from students who aren’t usually absent. Parents know the school takes attendance seriously and alert them for planned absences.
  • Using varying strategies for different families. Strategies include daily wake-up calls, home visits, and personalized solutions to encourage students to come to school.

Friendship Tech Prep PCS was credited for increasing academic outcomes, as well as its high attendance and low suspension rates. School administration realized their practice of suspending students was overused and ineffective, so they evaluated different models of addressing student behavior. Most importantly, they included students in these conversations asking them how they want to learn, why they are absent, and how to make school “lit”. Out of these conversations, they made some changes including:

  • Switching to project-based learning, allowing students to engage with their learning in a more practical way.
  • Created committees led by students. The uniform committee created uniforms that students would actually want to wear. The attendance committee made administration aware of issues with bus transportation.
  • Implemented Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) where students receive rewards for early attendance or being “caught” doing good, as well as “dollars” to be redeemed for privileges such as “dress down Fridays”.

Continue reading

On the Agenda: #DCSafeRoutes Expert Panel

Safe Passage Panel 3 - 2018

By: Paul Negron, Public Affairs Specialist

As the new school year progresses, education stakeholders across the District continue to devise ways to improve safety for students traveling to and from school. At last month’s public meeting, we heard from experts, education advocates, school counselors, and parents on some of the biggest challenges District students face in getting to and from school safely. Organizations are working diligently every day to promote safe passage and inform community members about what they can do to help this process.

Our first panel featured Chief Student Advocate Faith Gibson Hubbard and Dan Davis, Student Advocate. Ms. Gibson Hubbard and Mr. Davis defined safe passage as “a student’s journey to school, their movement within school, and how they navigate their way home from school.” The types of student safety issues that were reported include violence, bullying, criminalized conduct, and transportation. Community members who need assistance can access the Office of the Student Advocate’s Safe Passage Resource Toolkit online, which was designed to create and sustain the safe passage of our students and communities based on the “6 E’s” from National Safe Routes to School: education, encouragement, engineering, enforcement, evaluation, and equity.

Continue reading

In Class, Not Cuffs: A Discussion about Rethinking School Discipline

By: Kit Faiella, Policy Fellow

The Center for American Progress hosted an intriguing panel on January 17th discussing the role of over-punishment in our schools and how it can lead to negative outcomes over time. This is known as the “school-to-prison pipeline,” and is a disturbing, ongoing trend affecting many Districts, LEAs, and schools across the country. Unfortunately these well-researched occurrences disproportionately impact minority, low-income, and disabled students. Some research cited from the presentation:

  • Black students are suspended and expelled three times the rate of white students
  • Disabled students are suspended and expelled two times the rate of non-disabled students
  • Higher funding for mental health professionals in districts and schools can lead to better student outcomes
  • Suspension is correlated with almost all negative achievement outcomes (prison, low grades, low socio-economic status later in life)
  • Moving to a new location, a trauma a child has experienced, or a major life event impacts the chances of a child being suspended

Continue reading